Smile Politely

Getting groovy and Greek on Green Street

Green Street is a magical place on campus. You’ve got the sushi restaurants, the endless chain restaurants, some shops, some bars, and one very crowded Starbucks, but ZORBA’S has the exciting change of pace when it comes to food. This Greek-style restaurant is the place to go for a unique, family owned, local feel that everyone can come to know and love.

On March 23, 2011, a fire broke out on Green Street, destroying three beloved shops under the eyes of the Alma Mater. Zorba’s was among them, and from the water damage caused from burst pipes, it was shut down for a few years. Owner Matt Mortenson talked about the tragedy as his family owned restaurant would be under construction leaving him with a lot more work. Fortunately, it reopened last April and is back in business! The loyal former customers, as well as new students and residents were able to enjoy Zorba’s once again with a few minor layout changes, but the same delicious menu. I, among the new customers, was able to have Zorba’s for the first time and have to say I will be back for more… and more and more!

I experienced my first meal at Zorba’s and ended up getting a few friends to come back with me to try more food on their menu. I got the classic gyro, which was a combination of beef and lamb – it was recommended by one of the workers over the chicken gyro because it is their most popular. I can easily agree, as I was very happy with my choice once I sunk my teeth for the first bite. The gyro comes on soft pita bread and is topped with onions, lettuce, tomatoes and their famous cucumber sauce (yes I asked for all four – had to do it the Greek way) and I also got fries on the side to complete the meal. There was so much more than just Greek food on the menu: they also have fried mac n’ cheese bites. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

When I spoke to owner Matt Mortenson I got the low down on the groovy Tuesday deal. This deal includes $1 off the classic gyro and the hummus vegee and half off fries. Mortensen had started it a long time ago when he was the general manager. He said it was a day, still early in the week, where customers will need a pick-me-up. He called it groovy because he “wanted to keep the word alive.” Being on Green Street, there is a lot of competition from the many other restaurants. He says that he is not the greatest at advertising, and most of his business comes from this large following and weekly deals. Besides Groovy Tuesday, he started a Fishin’ Friday deal, which has brought in a lot of business as well. This deal includes either of the fish gyros with fries and a drink for only $7.50. There are also other fish meals as well – the possibilities are plentiful.

After chatting with Mortenson, I knew he was a cool guy. He keeps things fun, yet simple (check out Zorba’s Facebook page, he will give you a good chuckle and a hungry stomach). Most of all he is a very humble man who wants the best for his customers. He stated, “I’m not the best at schmoozing the customers” but for his standing as a family guy — having his daughter work with him — and a down-to-earth personality, he has given Zorba’s that special spark. He has a loyal following too. He filled me in on a couple that comes down to Champaign as much as they can just to get a meal or two from their favorite spot. They traveled all the way from Palatine because they have yet to find a place as good as Zorba’s. The day I ate at Zorba’s I was surrounded customers who were not just students as I am used to at most other restaurants. Instead I found myself besides businessmen on lunch break as well as constructions workers and families. It was a refreshing environment that certainly felt “groovy” even though it wasn’t a Tuesday.

Zorba’s is located at 627 East Green Street, and is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Thursday; 10 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday and Satuday; and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sunday. For more daily deals and a look at Zorba’s Facebook page for the full menu, or stop in next time you are passing Green Street for a real treat. Photos courtsey of Zorba’s Facebook page

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